How a more inclusive marketplace can promote low-carbon growth

[GreenBiz publishes a range of perspectives on the transition to a clean economy. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the position of GreenBiz.]

The carbon marketplace is a vital mechanism for companies to align their decarbonization strategies with Paris Agreement targets. Refining it to make it more inclusive is key to the fight against climate change.

Carbon markets are improving. Clear guidelines for how companies both claim emissions reductions and use the resulting credits are enhancing transparency and rigor. Markets are also evolving on the supply side to establish integrity through well-defined standards for the issuance of credits. But there is still room for improvement.

Developing sector-based benchmarks against which all operators in a given industry can participate would open carbon markets to emerging companies. This inclusive step would complement the current project-based approach to issuing credits and mark a significant advance toward achieving Paris Agreement goals.

Under the status quo, emissions are requisite for earning credits

Under the current project-based approach, companies earn carbon credits after implementing technological or operational changes (beyond business as usual) that avoid, reduce or remove greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Once a company demonstrates that it has achieved the intended emissions-reduction effect, carbon standard bodies, which manage greenhouse gas crediting programs, can issue credits proportional to the impact of the change on emissions.

Relying on project-based reference points for measuring emissions reductions and issuing credits supports industry incumbents in lowering their carbon footprints. However, this approach as the sole means of generating carbon credits prevents growth-stage companies without large carbon footprints from earning credits at all. From their perspective, credits are issued in a way that incentivizes conventional operations rather than deliberate low-carbon growth from the outset.

Carbon markets for low emissions from inception

To help put emerging industries on low-carbon pathways, carbon standard bodies should build upon their methodologies and adopt sector-based approaches for issuing carbon credits. Under such models, credits could be issued according to how companies perform against industry-wide emissions standards. These credits would be performance-based as opposed to project-based and would focus more on the life cycle emissions of the production of goods and services. 

In a big tent approach, where all companies in a sector can be assessed against a rigorous benchmark, even the newest company in an industry would be eligible to earn credits. Moreover, the fact that such a company has never polluted would be a benefit rather than a barrier to the market. Benchmarks would be set based on better-than-average performance and periodically adjusted to drive each sector’s collective emissions downward in line with that sector’s stipulated target, which should be aligned with Science-Based Targets Initiative (SBTI) and other climate action frameworks

By rewarding both young companies striving to build

Read More